Kensington – London – Pt. 3

The buildings have now spread and are spreading over so much ground that it is a matter of difficulty to enumerate them all. The elaborate terra-cotta building facing Exhibition Road is the Royal College of Science, under the control of the Board of Education, for the Museum is quite as much for purposes of technical education as for mere sightseeing. Behind this lie the older parts of the Museum, galleries, etc., which are so much hidden away that it is difficult to get a glimpse of them at all. Across the road, behind the Natural History Museum, are the Southern Galleries, containing various models of machinery actually working ; northward of this, more red brick and scaffolding proclaim an extension, which will face the Imperial Institute Road, and parts have even run across the roads in both directions north and westward. The whole is known officially as the Victoria and Albert Museum, but generally goes by the name of the South Kensington Museum. The galleries and library are well worth a visit, and official catalogues can be had at the entrance.

From an architectural point of view, the Imperial Institute is much more satisfactory than either of the above. It is of gray stone, with a high tower called the Queen’s Tower, rising to a height of 280 feet ; in this is a peal of bells, ten in number, called after members of the royal family, and presented by an Australian lady. The Institute was the national memorial for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, and was designed to embody the colonial or Imperial idea by the collection of the native products of the various colonies, but it has not been nearly so successful as its fine idea entitled it to be. It was also formed into a club for Fellows on a payment of a small subscription, but was never very warmly supported.

It is now partly converted to other uses. The London University occupies the main entrance, great hall, central block, and east wings (except the basement). There are located here the Senate and Council rooms, Vice- Chancellor’s rooms, Board-rooms, convocation halls and offices, besides the rooms of the Principal, Registrars, and other University officers. At the Institute are also the physiological theatre and laboratories for special advanced lectures and research. The rest of the building is now the property of the Board of Trade, under whom the real Imperial Institute occupies the west wing and certain other parts of the building.

The Horticultural Gardens, which the Imperial Institute superseded, were taken by the Society in 1861, in addition to its then existing gardens at Chiswick. They were laid out in a very artificial and formal style, and were mocked in a contemporary article in the Quarterly Review : ” So the brave old trees which skirted the paddock of Gore House were felled, little ramps were raised, and little slopes sliced off with a fiddling nicety of touch which would have delighted the imperial grandeur of the summer palace, and the tiny declivities thus manufactured were tortured into curvilinear patterns, where sea-sand, chopped coal, and powdered bricks atoned for the absence of flower or shrub.” Every vestige of this has, of course, now vanished, and a new road has been driven past the front of the Institute.

The Albert Hall was opened by Queen Victoria in 1871, and, like the other buildings already mentioned, is closely associated with the earlier half of her reign. The idea was due to Prince Albert, who wished to have a large hall for musical and oratorical performances. It is in the form of a gigantic ellipse covered by a dome, and the external walls are decorated by a frieze. The effect is hardly commendable, and the whole has been compared to a huge bandbox. However, it answers the purpose for which it was designed, having good acoustic properties, and its concerts, especially the cheap ones on Sunday afternoons, are always well attended. The organ is worked by steam, and is one of the largest in the world, having close on 9,000 pipes. The hall stands on the site of Gore House, in its time a rendezvous for all the men and women of intellect and brilliancy in England. It was occupied by Wilberforce from 1808 to 1821. He came to it after his illness at Clapham, which had made him feel the necessity of moving nearer to London, that he might discharge his Parliamentary duties more easily. His Bill for the Abolition of Slavery had become law shortly before, and he was at the time a popular idol. His house was thronged with visitors, among whom were his associates, Clarkson, Zachary Macaulay, and Itomilly. What charmed him most in his new residence was the garden “full of lilacs, laburnum, nightingales, and swallows.” He writes:

“We are just one mile from the turnpike at Hyde Park Corner, having about 3 acres of pleasure-ground around our house, or rather behind it, and several old trees, walnut and mulberry, of thick foliage. I can sit and read under their shade with as much admiration of the beauties of nature as if I were 200 miles from the great city.”

In 1836 the clever and popular Lady Blessington came to Gore House, and remained there just so long as Wilberforce had done-namely, thirteen years. The house is thus described in ” The Gorgeous Lady Blessington” (Mr. Molloy) :

“Lying back from the road, from which it was separated by high walls and great gates, it was approached by a courtyard that led to a spacious vestibule. The rooms were large and lofty, the hall wide and stately, but the chiefest attraction of all were the beautiful gardens stretching out at the back, with their wide terraces, flower-beds, extensive lawns, and fine old trees.”

Kensington Gore was then considered to be in the country, and spoken of as a mile from London. Count D’Orsay, who had married Lady Blessington’s stepdaughter, rather in compliance with her father’s wishes than his own inclination, spent much of his time with his mother-in-law, and at her receptions all the literary talent of the age was gathered together-Bulwer Lytton, Disraeli, and Landor were frequent visitors, and Prince Louis Napoleon made his way to Gore House when he escaped from prison. Lady Blessington died in 1849. The house was used as a restaurant during the 1851 Exhibition, and afterwards bought with the estate by the Commissioners.

The name “gore ” generally means a wedgeshaped insertion, and, if we take it as being between the Kensington Gardens and Brompton and Cromwell Roads, might be applicable here, but the explanation is far-fetched. Leigh Hunt reminds us that the same word ” gore ” was previously used for mud or dirt, and as the Kensington Road at this part was formerly notorious for its mud, this may be the meaning of the name, but there can be no certainty. Lowther Lodge, a picturesque red-brick house, stands back behind a high wall; it was designed by Norman Shaw, R.A. In the row of houses eastward of it facing the road, No. 2 was once the residence of Wilkes, who at that time had also a house in Grosvenor Square and another in the Isle of Wight. Croker says that the actor Charles Mathews was once, with his wife, Madame Vestris, in Gore Lodge, Brompton. He was certainly a friend of the Blessingtons, and stayed abroad with them in Naples for a year, and may have been attracted to their neighbourhood at the Gore.

Behind the Albert Hall are various buildings, such as Alexandra House for ladies studying art and music, also large mansions and maisonnettes recently built. The Royal College of Music, successor of the old College, which stood west of the Albert Hall, is in Prince Consort Road. It was designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield, and opened in 1894. The cost was defrayed by Mr. Samson Fox, and in the building is a curious collection of old musical instruments known as the Donaldson Museum and open free daily. In the same road a prettily designed church, to be called Holy Trinity, Kensington Gore, is rapidly rising. In the northern part of Exhibition Road is the Technical Institute of the City and Guilds in a large red and white building, and just south of it the Royal School of Art Needlework for Ladies, founded by Princess Christian.

Queen’s Gate is very wide ; in the southern part stands St. Augustine’s Church, opened for service in 1871, though the chancel was not completed until five years later. The architect was Mr. Butterfield, and the church is of brick of different colours, with a bell gable at the west end. In Cromwell Place, near the underground station, Sir John Everett Millais lived in No. 7 ; the fact is recorded on a tablet. Harrington Road was formerly Cromwell Lane, and there is extant a letter of Leigh Hunt’s dated from this address in 1830. 1’elham Crescent, behind the station, formerly looked out upon tea-gardens. Guizot, the notable French Minister, came to live here after the fall of Louis Philippe. He was in No. 21, and Charles Mathews, the actor, lived for a time in NO. 25. The curves of the old Brompton Road suggest that it was a lane at one time, curving to avoid the fields or different properties on either side.

Onslow Square stands upon the site of a large lunatic asylum. In it is St. Paul’s Church, built in 1860, and well known for its evangelical services. There is nothing remarkable in its architecture save that the chancel is at the west end. The pulpit is of carved stone with inlaid slabs of American onyx. Marochetti, an Italian sculptor, who is responsible for many of the statues in London, including that of Prince Albert on the Memorial, lived at No. 34 in the square in 1860. But its proudest association is that Thackeray came to the house then No. 36, from Young Street, in 1853. The Newcomes” was at that time appearing in parts, and continued to run until 1855, so that some of it was probably written here. He published also while here ‘° The Rose and the Ring,” the outcome of a visit to Rome with his daughters, and after “The Newcomes ” was completed he visited America for a second time on a tour of lectures, subsequently embodied in a book, ” The Four Georges.” By his move from Young Street he was nearer to his friends the Carlyles in Chelsea, a fact doubtless much appreciated on both sides. He contested Oxford in 1857, and in the following year began the publication of ” The Virginians,” which was doubtless inspired by his American experiences. In 1860 he was made editor of the Cornhill, from which his income came to something like £4,000 a year, and on the strength of this accession of fortune he began to build a house in Palace Green, to which he moved when it was complete (p. 53).

It has been remarked that this is rather a dismal neighbourhood, with the large hospitals for Cancer and Consumption facing each other across the Fulham Road, and the Women’s Hospital quite close at hand. It is with the Consumption Hospital alone we have to do here, as the others are in Chelsea. This hospital stands on part of the ground which belonged to a famous botanical garden owned by William Curtis at the end of the eighteenth century. The building is of red brick, faced with white stone, and it is on a piece of ground about 3 acres in extent, lined by small trees, under which are seats for the wan-faced patients. The ground-plan of the building resembles the letter H, and the system adopted inside is that of galleries used as dayrooms and filled with chairs and couches. From these the bedrooms open off. The galleries make a superior sort of ward, and are bright, with large windows, and polished floors. There is a chapel attached to the hospital, which was chiefly presented by the late Sir Henry Foulis, after whom one of the galleries is named, and who is also recalled in the name of a neighbouring terrace. The west wing of the hospital was added in 1852, and towards it Jenny Lind, who was resident in Brompton, presented £1,600, the proceeds of a concert for the cause. There is also an extension building across the road. Here there is a compressed air-bath, in which an enormous pressure of air can be put upon the patient, to the relief of his lungs. This item, rendered expensive by its massive structure and iron bolts and bars, cost £1,000, and is one of the only two of the kind in existence, the other being in Paris. A Miss Read bequeathed to the hospital the sum of £100,000, and in memory of her a slab beneath a central window is inscribed: °° In Memoriam Cordelia Read, 187g.” It was due to her beneficence that the extension building was added.

In Cranley Gardens, which takes its name from the secondary title of the Earl of Onslow, is 5t. Peter’s Church, founded in 1866. Cranley Gardens run into Gloucester Road, which formerly bore the much less aristocratic title of Hogmore Lane.

Just above the place where the Cromwell Road cuts Gloucester Road, about the site of the National Provincial Branch Bank, once stood a rather important house. It had been the Florida Tea-gardens, and having gained a bad reputation was closed, and the place sold to Sophia, Duchess of Gloucester, who built there a house on her own account, and called it Orford Lodge, in honour of her own family, the Walpoles. She had married privately William Henry, Duke of Gloucester, brother of George III. The marriage, which took place in 1766, was not revealed to King George II. until six years had passed, and when it was the Duke and Duchess fell under the displeasure of His Majesty. They travelled abroad for some time, but in 1780 were reinstated in royal favour. The Duke (lied in 1805, and the Duchess two years later. After her death her daughter, Princess Sophia, sold the house to the great statesman George Canning, who renamed it Gloucester Lodge, and lived in it until his death eighteen years later. It was to this house he was brought after his duel with Lord Castlereagh, when he was badly wounded in the thigh. Crabbe, the poet, visited him at Gloucester Lodge, and records the fact in his journal, commenting on the gardens, and remarking that the place was much secluded. Canning also received here the unhappy Queen Caroline, whose cause he had warmly espoused. The house was pulled down about the middle of last century, but its memory is kept alive in Gloucester Road.

Thistle Grove Lane is one of those quaint survivals which enable us to reconstruct the past topographically, in the same way as the silent letters in a word, apparently meaningless, enable us to reconstruct the philological past. It is no longer a lane, but a narrow passage, and about midway down is crossed by a little street called Priory Grove. Faulkner makes mention of Friars’ Grove in this position, and the two names are probably identical. Brompton Heath lay east of this lane, and westward was Little Chelsea, a small hamlet in fields, situated by itself, quite detached from London, separated from it by the dreary heath, that no man might cross with impunity after dark.

The Boltons is an oval piece of ground with St. Mary’s Church in was opened in 1851, prisingly small in comparison with the exterior. It was fully restored about twenty years after it had been built. The land had been for many years the property of the Bolton family, whose name impressed itself on the place.

Returning to the Fulham Road, and continuing westward, we pass the site of an old manor-house, afterwards used as an orphanage ; near it was an additional building of the St. George’s Union, which is opposite. There is a tradition that Boyle, the philosopher, once occupied this additional house, and was here visited by Locke. The present Union stands on the site of Shaftesbury House, built about 1635, and bought by the third Earl of Shaftesbury in 1699. Addison, who was a great friend of the Earl’s, often stayed with him in Shaftesbury House.

Redcliffe Gardens was formerly called WalnutTree Walk, another rural reminiscence. At the eastern corner was Burleigh House, and an entry in the Kensington registers, May 15, 1674, tells of the birth of ” John Cecill, son and heir of John, Lord Burleigh,” in the parish. There is no direct evidence to show that Lord Burleigh was then living in this house, but the probability is that he was. To the east of this house again was a row of others, with large gardens at the back ; one was Lochee’s well-known military academy, and another, Heckfield Lodge, was taken by the brothers of the Priory attached to the Roman Catholic church, Our Lady of Seven Dolours, which faces the street. The greater part of this church was built in 1876, but a very fine rectangular porch with figures of saints in the niches, and a narthex in the same style, were added later. The square tower with corner pinnacles is a conspicuous object in the Fulham Road.